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Constipation and Diarrhea

Constipation and Diarrhea

Constipation is when you have infrequent or hard-to-pass bowel movements (meaning they are painful or you have to strain), have hard stools or feel like your bowel movements are incomplete. Infrequent means less than three bowel movements a week.

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools or bowel movements. You have diarrhea if you have loose stools three or more times in one day. Acute diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts a short time, usually about one or two days, but it may last longer.


Constipation Causes

In most cases, constipation is a symptom, not a disease. Below is a list of some of the most common causes of constipation:

Poor diet

Not eating enough veggies, fruits and whole grains can make the stools hard and difficult to pass.

Changes in your diet, like when you travel, along with inactivity can also lead to constipation.


Many medications can cause constipation. Let your doctor know all of the medications you are on, or let your doctor know if you have had constipation in the past before starting a new medication. Some examples of medicine that can cause constipation are:

  • Pain medications (mainly narcotics).

  • Some antacids.

  • Antispasmodic drugs, which suppress muscle spasms.

  • Antidepressant drugs.

  • Tranquilizers.

  • Iron supplements.

  • Anticonvulsants, for epilepsy.

  • Anti–Parkinson’s disease drugs.

  • Calcium channel blockers, for high blood pressure and heart conditions.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Also known as IBS with constipation or IBS-C, this condition is one of the most common causes of constipation in the U.S. IBS-C is associated with more belly pain than some other causes of constipation.

Poor bowel habits

You can start a cycle of constipation by not going when you have the urge to move your bowels (like when you are too busy or don’t want to use a public toilet). After a while, you may stop feeling the need to go at all. This leads to constipation.

Pelvic floor dysfunction

When the muscles in the pelvic floor don’t relax as they should to allow easy passage of stool, it causes constipation and the feeling like you have to go, but nothing comes out. This is treated by biofeedback and retraining of these muscles through pelvic floor physical therapy.

Diarrhea Causes

A number of diseases and conditions can cause diarrhea, including:

  • Viruses

  • Bacteria and parasites

  • Medications

  • Lactose intolerance

  • Fructose and artificial sweeteners

  • Surgery

  • Other digestive disorders such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, microscopic colitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Constipation Treatment

Constipation can usually be treated medically. The definition of constipation can be based on family, culture and their own experience, so it can have different meanings. It is normal to have some constipation at times as a result of what you eat or other habits. If there is ongoing pain with bowel movements or there is blood in your stool, you should call your doctor.

Diarrhea Treatment

The number one concern in treating diarrhea is dehydration:

  • Drink plenty of fluids

  • Don't drink caffiene or alcohol

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